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World-class Dad

All Kids Can Experience the Wonder of 'Daddy Days'
By Brian "Fox" Ellis

As an active father, I happily take my turn playing with my twin daughters. Throughout their summer vacation and when Lily and Laurel have a day off from school, my wife and I take turns being home with the girls. At least one day a week during the summer and on frequent weekends through the year we have a "Daddy Day."
 
Shared Adventures
 
A Daddy Day is always an adventure, something mom might enjoy our family doing together, but wouldn't go out of her way to do alone. Some of our expeditions have included trips to the zoo or water park, camping out at a state park and canoeing a local river. We have hiked most of the forest preserves in our area, gone eagle-watching along the Illinois River and even visited a fish hatchery to see how eggs are raised into lunker bass. Fishing is one of our favorite outings.
 
Obviously these choices reflect my interests. I want to share my passion for adventure with my daughters and hope that we grow closer by spending time together. Your list of activities may differ from mine and may include more children's museums, theater productions or NASCAR racing. Whatever appeals to you and your twins qualifies.
 
When deciding upon activities, I look for ideas in magazines like TWINS and I talk to other fathers. Being willing to try something new and duplicating adventures from my childhood are also important. Keeping an eye on local event calendars helps us find the best adventures. My 6-year-old twin daughters love to have an adventure with daddy.
 
When the girls were 5 years old, I took them canoeing on the Spoon River. With lifejackets firmly strapped on we floated through 10 miles of wild back country. (The only secret to canoeing with twins is to bring an extra paddle, but fathers of twins know that you always need two of everything.) We enjoyed throwing rocks while we ate lunch on a sandbar. We found clamshells and raccoon tracks in the mud. Around every bend was a discovery.
 
The highlight of the day was finding a wood duck and her three babies. The mother tried to distract us, but we were on to her tricks and went looking for the chicks. We did not want to disturb them; we only wanted a closer look. Somehow one of the chicks was separated from the flock. We followed her and tried to spook her back towards her mother, but she kept swimming downstream. The girls were worried. We tried to pass her and get around on the other side of the river, but she kept crossing the river in front of us. Each time she would stretch and flutter her wings as she swam/ran across the water. Obviously she had never flown, but she was warming up to the idea. Finally, she was able to lift up off the water. She flew over our heads and back towards her family. The girls and I were amazed! We had seen her take her first flight. Lily and Laurel decided we had taught her how to fly.
 
Even a day at home can be an adventure
 
With a Daddy Day at home I take a different track. I let my daughters choose the games and make the rules. As the grown-up it is difficult, yet more rewarding, to release control over the situation. This way my children learn to make decisions for themselves, and they may see me in a different light.
 
Some days we play tag or hide-and-seek. We like to put on rowdy music and dance wildly. We play board games and cards. The girls like to paint, draw pictures and make things with glue and scissors. Whereas my wife likes to plan craft ideas, our Daddy Day activities are less structured. We do what the girls want.
 
We are fortunate to have a large fenced-in back yard. We have two big, gently dogs that like to fetch, be chased and play tug of war. We also have a swing set. The girls love to swing, especially when daddy pushes them really high. My wife cringes when the girls go past a certain height, but when she is not around, they love for me to give them an underdog: a really big push while I run under the swing as they soar skyward. We all giggle gleefully as they swing so high they can see China and Africa. From the tops of their swings their imaginations soar as they talk about what animals they can see on the other side of the world.
 
Tree climbing as a metaphor for life
 
We also like to climb trees. When the girls were younger, I always stayed on the ground and acted as a spotter to prevent accidents. At ages 2 and 3 they climbed a short Japanese maple in the front yard. As they grew, so did the height of the trees they climbed. Now we like to climb a tall gingko tree in the backyard. From its top limbs we can see most of the neighborhood. Our view of the world has grown, too.
 
Tree climbing is a great way to learn about risk assessment, planning ahead and cooperation. The twins need to work together to share the best limbs. We don't have to talk about these concepts to learn them; we just climb trees. When up in a tree you cannot say, "I cannot do it." You have to say, "Let me try another way." My wife will not let them climb trees. Climbing trees is something you do on Daddy Day.
 
Though my wife and I have the same basic philosophy of child rearing, we have different parenting styles. It might have as much to do with our personalities as our gender, but research confirms the idea that fathers have something special to offer, as do mothers. My wife teases me about being the fun one: "When they are hurt, they come to mommy; but when they want to be rowdy, they run to daddy."
 
Clearly, the role of fathers is very important. I recently heard a radio commentator say the most important thing a father can do for his children is to be present—physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. With twins, this is doubly important. That's why there's no substitute for Daddy Days!